They were exchanging stories about their night at the stripper’s, and complaining about how weak the marijuana was on a recent trip to Amsterdam. I was at the next table over, doing my best not to be distracted. I had stopped in at this Vancouver restaurant, hoping to finish the last few chapters of a book which, at that moment, felt even more pertinent: Rumors of God.
What do we do with the space between the promises found in Scripture and the reality of our own lived experience? Where is the living God we read about in Exodus or the Gospels? Where is the church we hear about in the book of Acts or biographies from China?
To be honest, the secularism of our time and the endemic cynicism of our own hearts can make it hard to hope. It can be all too easy to resign ourselves to functional deism: there is a God, but he is distant and disengaged, and likely at work someplace else. The story of the Living God and his church must just be a tale from another era. The greatest days of the church are behind us – they’re somewhere in the 1st century, or 16th century, or maybe even Yarrow, B.C. circa 1950.
Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson want to rebel against such notions. Australian-born, now U.S.-based pastors and long-time friends, Whitehead and Tyson joined up to give witness to the work God is doing through what many have all but written off – the church. Darren Whitehead is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek, sharing the weekend services with Bill Hybels. Jon Tyson is lead pastor of Trinity Grace Church, which has five locations in New York City. Throughout Rumors of God, they offer a compelling mix of stories from their ministry contexts (both suburban and urban), astute cultural observation, and scriptural insight.
Pulsing throughout Rumors of God is the cry of the prophet Habakkuk: “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). This is the heartbeat of the book, as the authors seek to help Christians reimagine and re-engage the mission of God.
Whitehead and Tyson begin by challenging our cultural captivity. Our attention has drifted from God, they contend; our minds have become hostage to smaller, shallower dreams. Whitehead and Tyson repeatedly show how God is working to recapture our imaginations to his alternative dream of reconciling all things through his son Jesus. Each chapter of the book looks at “rumour” – of generosity, grace, freedom, community, and more.
The transformation of rumour to reality occurs as we “seek first” the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). An encounter with the gospel afresh is what enables us to more confidently affirm that it’s the power of God to save. This is what closes the gap between merely hearing and actually seeing. Seeing God at work is what creates a vibrant witness.
And this is, in fact, what Whitehead and Tyson are seeking to achieve: “We want to awaken believers to see that deep in our souls we long to see the fame and deeds of God renewed and known in our time. We believe that we were all created for a radical pursuit of Jesus and his kingdom,” they write in an interview about the book. “May we be among those who believe that the greatest days of the church are still to come.”
Rumors of God would be a good choice for a reading group. Story-laden and written in accessible language, it could engage a wide range of readers. The accompanying reading group guide at the back of the book includes many thoughtful questions. The book would work well as a gift to those who have grown cynical or are reconsidering the faith, as it holds a lot of testimonies of God at work in particular people and places (the minivan story in chapter 3 is especially compelling!).
Lord, we have heard of your fame.… The underground church in China is seeing astounding growth, Whitehead and Tyson report. In Central America, believers gather together for whole nights of prayer. Even in Europe there are rumblings of God’s work of reconciliation. But what about us? What about here?
As I finished the book in that Vancouver restaurant, the lively guests sitting next to me had long moved on. With the rumours of God ringing fresh in my ears, I paid the bill and got on my bike to ride home. And I began to pray. I prayed that God’s fame and deeds would be renewed in our day, in our city. That God would make them known, so that when people got together in restaurants, they would have better stories to tell than those of strippers and narcotics. That stories would begin to travel of the rumours being true.